Walser, Martin (Vol. 183)
Martin Walser 1927-
German novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, critic, lecturer, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Walser's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 27.
Renowned in his native Germany since the 1960s and a vocal advocate for German reunification in the 1990s, Walser is a prolific writer of diverse genres who has emerged to international acclaim as one of the leading German voices in contemporary world literature. In his novels ranging from Halbzeit (1960), Seelenarbeit (1979; The Inner Man), Brandung (1985; Breakers), Die Veriteidigung der Kindheit (1991), and Tod eines Kritikers (2002), Walser has exhibited a preoccupation with the individual's predicament of discerning truth from fiction, memory from reality, and language from experience. In many of his essays, plays, and novels, Walser has also engaged such larger socio-political topics as the character of the German national identity and petit-bourgeois after World War II, the fragmentation of people and society in the modern world, and the decline of civic and cultural order and unity. Marked by concise prose and masterly dialogue, Walser's works have been noted by literary scholars for their empathetic contributions to both critical realism in German literature and the debate on national identity in post-reunification German culture.
Walser was born on March 24, 1927, in Wasserburg, Germany, to Martin Walser, an innkeeper and coal merchant, and Augusta Schmid. After his father died in 1938, Walser was forced to work in the family business while he attended the Lindau Gymnasium. When World War II erupted in 1939, Walser joined the student anti-aircraft artillery and was later drafted into the Reich Labor Service and eventually the Nazi army. Near the end of the war, Allied forces captured Walser and held him in a POW camp near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. While imprisoned, he worked at Radio Munich, the Third Reich's central broadcasting station for Bavaria. In 1946 Walser completed his high school studies and enrolled at the College of Theology and Philosophy at the University to Regensburg, where he participated in student theater and wrote his first dramatic sketches. In 1948 he transferred to the University of Tübingen where he joined the student theater and secured a freelance job at the South German Broadcasting System (SDR) in Stuttgart. In 1951 Walser received his doctorate degree with a dissertation on Franz Kafka's prose style. In the mid-1950s Walser wrote several radio plays for broadcast on SDR and was loosely associated with Gruppe 47, an influential literary group of critical realists who withheld its approval of Walser until 1955 when he won their annual prize for best new writing with the short story “Templones Ende.” In 1957 he published his first novel, Ehen in Philippsburg (Marriage in Phillipsburg), which won the Hermann Hesse Award. In 1958 he caught the notice of American diplomat Henry Kissinger, who invited him to the Harvard International Seminar, a trip that influenced his second novel, Halbzeit, the first volume of his Antslem Kristlien trilogy. In addition to his success as a novelist, Walser also established a reputation as one of West Germany's leading playwrights. During the 1960s, he wrote the critically acclaimed and hugely popular plays Der Abstecher (1961; The Detour), Eiche und Angora (1962; The Rabbit Race), Der schwarze Schwan (1964), and Die Zimmerschlacht (1967). Walser returned to writing novels in the late 1960s, publishing Das Einhorn (1966; The Unicorn) and Der Sturz (1973), completing the Kristlien trilogy. Throughout the 1970s, he visited the United States as a visiting scholar at a number of colleges and universities. As the 1981 recipient of the Georg-Büchner prize for his literary contributions to contemporary German culture, Walser expanded his international audience after several of his works became available in English translation during the early 1980s. During the same period, Walser renewed his contact with his other literary pursuits, publishing the lecture series Selbstbewußstein und Ironie (1981), the essay collections Liebeserklärungen (1983) and Geständnis auf Raten (1986), and the play In Goethes Hand (1982), which helped revive his dramatic reputation. During the 1980s, Walser continued to publish novels, including Brief an Lord Liszt (1982; Letter to Lord Liszt), Meßmers Gedanken (1985), Brandung, Dorle und Wolf (1987; No Man's Land), and Jagd (1988). An early and outspoken advocate for the reunification of Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Walser primarily wrote novels during the 1990s, including Die Verteidigung der Kindheit, Ohne einander (1993), Finks Krieg (1996), and Ein springender Brunnen (1998). In 1997 Walser published Werke in Zwölf Bänden, a nine-volume set comprising the first comprehensive collection of Walser's literary works.
Influenced by Kafka's and Marcel Proust's literary styles, Walser's novels typically concern the ill effects of postwar German consumer culture upon the individual, tracing how such societies depersonalize human behavior and interfere with interpersonal communications. In addition, Walser's early novels often incorporate commentary on such socio-political issues as the societal implications of German capitalism and the character of the German postwar national identity. However, Walser's focus always remains on an individual protagonist, often the same character reappearing in successive novels. Ehen in Philippsburg tells the story of Hans Beumann, a journalist seeking fame and fortune in the town of Philippsburg. Narrated from several third-person perspectives, Beumann gains social entrance and acceptance by mimicking local upper-class behavior only to sacrifice his own individuality. The first novel of the Antslem Kristlien trilogy, Halbzeit, relates a cautionary tale about the prevalence of commercial culture and its effect on society and language from the perspective of Kristlien, a socially adept advertising man who transfers from Germany to New York City. In the subsequent volumes of the trilogy, Das Einhorn and Der Sturz, Kristlein increasingly changes his personality to suit different social situations and eventually loses his identity due to unrelenting social pressures. In Jenseits der Liebe (1976; Beyond All Love), the protagonist, Franz Horn, is a mid-level manager whose career declines after the promotion of one of his younger subordinates, Horst Liszt. The novel recounts Horn's relationships at work, his attempts to defeat Liszt, his desire to leave his family, and his attempts at suicide, all of which prove unsuccessful. Set in a small Bavarian town, Das Schwanenhaus (1980; The Swan Villa) concerns Gottlieb Zürn, a realtor who leads a sedentary life because he is perpetually unable to make any decisions and prefers rather to fantasize about his female clients and business competitors. Equally ineffective as both a father and a husband, Zürn desires to obtain a contract to sell the Swan Villa, a large resort house which would add to his prestige and holdings, but the sale eludes him throughout the novel. An epistolary sequel to Jenseits der Liebe, Brief an Lord Liszt is comprised of letters from Horn to Liszt, largely concerned with office politics and the precarious existence of executives, particularly as Liszt begins his own descent down the corporate ladder after he is supplanted by a younger counterpart. Divided into three parts, Meßmers Gedanken presents the aphorisms and stylized thoughts of a man named Tassilo Herbert Meßmers, as recorded by Tassilo himself and an unidentified narrator. Set primarily on a California college campus, Brandung recounts the professional and personal decline of Helmut Halm, an older teacher at a Stuttgart gymnasium, who seizes the chance to spend a semester in California, the “Shangri-La of youth, sun and sensuality.”
Stylistically reminiscent of Heinrich Böll's novels, Dorle und Wolf tells the satirical story of a deeply divided German nationalist, Wolfe, an East German defector who spies for West Germany with the help of his married mistress, Dorle. In Jagd, a sequel to Das Schwanenhaus, Gottlieb Zürn and his wife, Anna, confront both their marital problems and the generation gap made apparent by their teenage daughters. Opening in 1930s Dresden, Die Verteidigung der Kindheit focuses on Alfred Dorn, who is widely considered to be an academic and musical prodigy. His family is devastated by the bombardment of Dresden, suffering both material and emotional losses, and Dorn eventually flees East Germany to study law in West Germany. Dorn leads an unexceptional life, obsessively tied to his mother and preoccupied with rescuing the memories of his childhood lost in the bombardment. A bestselling roman à clef, Ohne einander follows the sexual betrayals of a modern married couple, offering a cynical picture of contemporary intelligentsia. In Finks Krieg, Stefan Fink, a state-government official from Wiesbaden, engages in a lengthy legal fight to clear his name after his new boss lies about Fink's performance and tries to replace Fink with a friend. However, Fink becomes a nuisance to all in his pursuit of justice, and in the end, he no longer cares about the result. A highly autobiographical novel about growing up during Germany's Nazi era, Ein springender Brunnen centers around Johann—a boy who learns to love language at an early age—and his family as they struggle to save their hotel as Adolf Hitler rises to power. Hailed by some critics as Walser's masterpiece, Der Lebenslauf der Liebe (2001) tells the story of a middle-aged, lovelorn female protagonist, Susi Gern, who abandons her comfortable existence with her dying husband for an affair with a Muslim student, forty years her junior. Another roman à clef, Tod eines Kritikers recounts the murder of a leading literary critic, Andrè Enrel-König, allegedly by a disgruntled writer, Hans Lach, as narrated from the perspective of Lach's friend, Michael Landolf, who is determined to prove Lach's innocence.
Walser's most notable plays include Der Abstecher, a comical study of exploitation about a Hamburg businessman hoping to rendezvous with a now-married former mistress, and Eiche und Angora, a biting satire of recent German history as reflected through the ill-fated experiences of a town simpleton. A drama concerning post-World War II German guilt, Der schwarze Schwan dramatizes a son's discovery of his father's involvement in the war's atrocities. The son tries to trick his father into making a public confession, but he fails and eventually commits suicide. Die Zimmerschlacht depicts a series of arguments between a middle-aged married couple as they prepare to attend an engagement party. As they debate, the couple discovers that what they thought were private hopes and expectations are nothing more than internalized social expectations. Among Walser's later plays, In Goethes Hand traces the relationship between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his devotee Eckermann, portraying Goethe as an egomaniac who abuses those around him and Eckermann as a willing recipient of such abuse. Notable among Walser's essay collections are the five lectures comprising Selbstbewußstein und Ironie, which contrast Thomas Mann's modern definition of irony with Socrates's original formulation, and Vormittag eines Schriftstellers (1994), which contains assorted essays on political, cultural, and literary topics.
Critics and audiences alike have acknowledged the significance of Walser's contributions to German letters and culture, often discussing the relevance of his form of critical realism within the context of German history and postwar society. Throughout his career, reviewers have noted the singularity of his themes and his use of a single protagonist across several stories. Because many of Walser's writings focus on the relationship between the individual and contemporary society, several commentators have observed parallels between Walser and American novelist and essayist John Updike, identifying a similar focus on literary diversity and shared concerns about their respective national identities after World War II. Although most critics have agreed that Walser has developed his own singular literary voice and style, some have continued to note the influence of Kafka, Heinrich Böll, and Frederich Nietzsche on Walser's works. Walser's detractors have repeatedly faulted the author for writing apparently plotless narratives with little unifying detail. Such commentators have found Walser's unrelenting cynical, pessimistic perspective on postwar German culture disturbing, arguing that Walser fails to present constructive alternatives. Conversely, some scholars have accounted for Walser's lack of plot action by examining his typically intimate representation of a character's inner life, observing the ways that Walser's prose prompts a sympathetic response to usually flawed characters. Later reviewers have also commented on the increasingly nationalist tone of his works since the German reunification, particularly in Walser's more autobiographical novels, essays, and lectures that address the Nazi era of German history.
Kantaten auf der Kellertreppe (play) 1953
Ein Flugzeug über dem Haus und andere Geschichten (short stories) 1955
Ehen in Philippsburg: Roman [The Gadarene Club] (novel) 1957; also published as Marriage in Philippsburg, 1961
Halbzeit (novel) 1960
Der Abstecher [The Detour] (play) 1961
Eiche und Angora: Eine deutsche Chronik [The Rabbit Race] (play) 1962
Überlebensgroß Herr Krott: Requiem fuer einen Unsterblichen (play) 1963
Lügengeschichten (short stories) 1964
Der schwarze Schwan: Ein Stück in zwei Akten (play) 1964
Erfahrungen und Leseerfahrungen (essays and criticism) 1965
Das Einhorn [The Unicorn] (novel) 1966
Die Zimmerschlact (play) 1967
Fiction (short stories) 1970
Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit (novel) 1972
Der Sturz (novel) 1973
Wie und wovon handelt Literatur (essays and criticism) 1973
Jenseits der Liebe [Beyond All Love] (novel) 1976
Was zu bezweifeln war: Aufsätze und Reden 1958-1975 [edited by Klaus Schuhmann] (novel) 1976
Ein fliehendes Pferd...
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SOURCE: Nelson, Donald F. “The Depersonalized World of Martin Walser.” German Quarterly 41, no. 2 (March 1969): 204-16.
[In the following essay, Nelson analyzes the dominant themes and corresponding linguistic features of Die Ehen in Philippsburg and Halbzeit, exploring how Walser's experience and perception of compromised social communication in postwar Germany inform the novels.]
Martin Walser is a curious example of a contemporary novelist who, despite more than a decade of prolific writing, has failed to gain appreciable recognition from Germany's literary critics. Although the “Preis der Gruppe 47” (1955) and the “Hermann-Hesse-Preis” (1957) helped make him known to a larger audience, he has not gained the esteem comparable to that of other Gruppe 47 prizewinners (Eich, Böll, Ilse Aichinger, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Günter Grass). Typical of the criticisms of the author is the comment of Marcel Reich-Ranicki regarding Walser's chief work, Halbzeit (1960): “… vielleicht hat noch nie ein so schlechtes Buch so große Begabung bewiesen.”1 There are two aspects of Walser's work that appear to disturb critics most: his apparent lack of concern for plot and for integration of detail into a unified whole,2 and his failure to present anything like a constructive alternative to the hypercritical and devastating picture he paints of postwar German...
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SOURCE: Pickar, Gertrud Bauer. “Narrative Perspective in the Novels of Martin Walser.” German Quarterly 44, no. 1 (January 1971): 48-57.
[In the following essay, Pickar studies various literary devices related to the narrative perspective in Die Ehen in Philippsburg, Halbzeit, and Das Einhorn, evaluating the effects of each device's development upon the forms and themes of the novels.]
Walser's first novel, Ehen in Philippsburg, is often dismissed as the work of a novice and generally passed over in discussions of his other novels, Halbzeit and Das Einhorn.1 The reason for its exclusion is the apparent lack of similarity of this initial novel to his later works: it is narrated continually in the third person singular; there is no interplay of fictional levels which in subsequent novels is related to the use of the first person; the portrayal of character and plot lacks the complexity and ambiguity of the later works. Closer examination, however, reveals that features which are dominant in the other two novels are prefigured in Philippsburg.2 This work contains tentative indications of techniques which are to become characteristic of the following novels and incorporates devices which later reappear in variant forms.
This is true of the literary features related to narrative perspective to be discussed here: first, the...
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SOURCE: Zimmermann, Ulf. Review of Selbstbewußstein und Ironie: Frankfurter Vorlesungen, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 56, no. 2 (spring 1982): 332-33.
[In the following review, Zimmermann highlights the political significance of Selbstbewußstein und Ironie: Frankfurter Vorlesungen, affirming Walser's contention that the prevailing modern notion of irony perverts Socrates's original definition of the concept.]
At the fulcrum of these five lectures [Selbstbewußstein und Ironie: Frankfurter Vorlesungen] is Martin Walser's contention that the prevailing conception of irony, as epitomized in Thomas Mann, is a perversion of the original Socratic irony, for which Friedrich Schlegel is responsible. That perversion, as Walser has it, has thwarted the basic twofold thrust of irony—to negate existing conditions and to engender individual consciousness—which is the whole Socratic purpose. Instead of this, Schlegelian irony merely elevates the individual self above these conditions, leaving them unquestioned and as they are. What we have here then is the familiar substitution of a supposed intellectual freedom for an actual political kind. This tradition of irony culminates in Thomas Mann's Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen and manifests itself in such “naturelbische Dichtergesinnungslosigkeit” as he attributes to Goethe.
In this sense of...
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SOURCE: Waugh, Harriet. “Cotton Wool.” Spectator 250, no. 8071 (19 March 1983): 24-5.
[In the following review, Waugh finds The Swan Villa unreadable and “simply boring,” faulting the novel's “muffled” style.]
Martin Walser is a German writer and his novel, The Swan Villa, has been translated by Leila Lennewitz. The quotations on the back of the jacket about one of his earlier novels indicate that he is highly thought of; and that ‘every paragraph, every incident seems to be exactly right in length, in placing, in mood and in detail’ (The Northern Echo). He is a ‘gimlet author boring into people's veneered exteriors’ (Daily Telegraph).
All this makes me feel peculiarly philistine and shallow because I have to admit that I had extraordinary difficulty in making myself persevere to the end of The Swan Villa. Reading it was an endurance test; where a mountain climber might tell himself that he will not rest until he has reached a certain rock or peak, I measured my need for a rest about every ten pages. Once, in desperation, I found myself reading it aloud in order to force my eyes and mind to continue along the lines of words. The publishers, as though in conspiracy with the writer to make the task harder, have chosen to print the book in ugly, black type that shows through from the following page. I suppose it is just possible that,...
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SOURCE: Mahlendorf, Ursula. Review of In Goethes Hand: Szenen aus dem 19. Jahrhundert, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 57, no. 2 (spring 1983): 279.
[In the following review, Mahlendorf outlines scenes from In Goethes Hand, pronouncing the play's portrayal of the psychological and social dynamics of oppression successful.]
Martin Walser's recent play In Goethes Hand is a fascinating study of a great man and his human, all too human relationships. The title is a pun on “In Gottes Hand.” Walser's Goethe is indeed God, and Eckermann, in this drama's three parts, is his most devoted servant and priest. The play shows the continual and ambivalent fascination which the national literary idol has exercised over German writers. Like Peter Hacks in his Frau von Stein monologue (see WLT 57:1, p. 97), Walser does not focus on the great man himself but rather on his subordinates and dependents, on Eckermann, on Goethe's son and daughter-in-law and on the servants and retinue of his household. From their perspective the great man appears as gratuitously egocentric, obsessed with his role as national treasure, wholly out of touch with contemporary reality. Manipulated by his family, duped by his servants, Goethe abuses the only real devotee he has, Eckermann. To be sure, Eckermann came to Weimar as a young law student to seek Goethe's help. But the price he pays for doing so is...
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SOURCE: Zimmermann, Ulf. Review of Liebeserklärungen, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 58, no. 3 (summer 1984): 411-12.
[In the following review, Zimmermann focuses on the relationship between the language and literary values expressed in Liebeserklärungen, commending Walser's wit and phrasing.]
Except for the fact that the volume [Liebeserklärungen] consists exclusively of favorable reviews—being after all a collection of literary “declarations of love”—it doesn't really have any sort of unifying theme. The selections come from other volumes or from periodicals and were composed as “occasional” pieces, celebrating literary classics old and new, literary birthdays, anniversaries and prizes. They were written over the last quarter of a century (beginning with Walser's own rise to literary prominence around 1957) and reach back to recollections of his adolescent reading experiences. Fittingly, these adolescent loves are Schiller and Hölderlin, whose moral and political idealism he finds as sorely needed today as he found them passionately inspiring at first reading.
Perhaps what these essays do have in common can best be captured by enumerating the characteristically recurring words that come together in something of a set summing up Walser's values: accuracy, authenticity (though not for authenticity's sake), conscientiousness, exactitude,...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. Review of The Inner Man, by Martin Walser. Los Angeles Times Book Review (27 January 1985): 1, 7.
[In the following review, Eder summarizes the plot and themes of The Inner Man, noting the parallels between the protagonist and contemporary Germany.]
Chauffeur Xaver Zurn, driving his wealthy employer across southern Germany in a pale-green Mercedes, needs to relieve himself [in The Inner Man]. But it is more than that. There are global aspects, universal dimensions to his abdominal agony.
History furnishes a lesson for his retentive struggle. (“Xaver had read descriptions of battles during the Peasants’ War. Whenever, the horde of peasants yielded a mere fraction, [it] would be swept away in headlong flight.”) Religion is there. (“Think of Jesus Christ,” he reflects, speeding towards Stuttgart and its sanitary facilities. “This afternoon you will be granted deliverance.”)
And, of course, it is a state matter. (“It always infuriated Xaver when some industry-oriented group lashed out on TV against the deficit of the Federal Railway. If only because of its public and almost always spotless toilets, he was happy to concede however many billions of marks were required.”)
Xaver, compulsive and touchy, is a model of outward order and, inwardly, a raging hell. At one level, he is Martin Walser's...
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SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Calling Dr. Angst.” New York Review of Books 32, no. 5 (28 March 1985): 31-2.
[In the following excerpt, Enright assesses the characterization of the protagonist of The Inner Man.]
At the outset it looks as though the raison d'être of Martin Walser's novel, The Inner Man, is the uplifting effect of contemplating other people's misery. The hero is a chauffeur suffering from indigestion—the inner man is not at peace—and when we meet him he is driving his boss, a big industrialist, from Tettnang-Oberhof on the German side of Lake Constance to Düsseldorf, and in extreme discomfort owing to the laxative he has taken. “To throttle his bowels back entirely would be too painful. To yield by even a fraction would mean losing control over them.” Xaver doesn't like to stop the car and disappear into the forest. He gets little satisfaction from his doctor, who thinks—correctly, it appears—that his complaints are a way of gaining his wife's attention.
This dutiful stomachache, Doctor, I'll pass on your regards to it, Doctor. The tireless stomachache, Doctor. … The glorious stomachache. The lonely stomachache. The eternal stomachache. The dear stomachache. The painful stomachache, Doctor.
The Inner Man is a companion book to Walser's last novel to appear in English, The Swan Villa;...
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SOURCE: Spycher, Peter. Review of Meßmers Gedanken, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 59, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 587.
[In the following review, Spycher focuses on the identity of the narrator-protagonist of Meßmers Gedanken, noting the individual's relationship to the narrative.]
As the title [Meßmers Gedanken] indicates, we are offered a (three-part) collection of aphoristically and often poetically expressed thoughts by a man named Tassilo Herbert Meßmer. Meßmer himself and a “narrator” have taken irregular turns in noting them down. The narrator's identity remains totally unknown, Meßmer's almost totally. Their mutual relationship is not explained; the narrator may be the editor. Meßmer claims to be an “optician” but would prefer to be a carrier of far-reaching messages; he must be a real or a would-be poet. He is also a traveler (the USA, Ireland, West Germany, Switzerland are fleetingly mentioned). From his fifty-fourth to his sixty-third year, however, he sits still in his room and subsequently dies suddenly, without (this was his own desire) being missed by anybody.
Basically, it seems best to regard Meßmer's thoughts as disembodied emanations of a shadowy individual. Here are a few typical samples: “I yearn to be like a wish. I would like to stand on the threshold. A day before daybreak. I wish I had not yet existed”; “For lack of...
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SOURCE: Zimmermann, Ulf. Review of Brandung, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 60, no. 3 (summer 1986): 465.
[In the following review, Zimmermann summarizes the plot of Brandung, observing the “bleakness” of its protagonist and the stylistic “excess” of its American-English syntax.]
The story of Helmut Halm, as Walser reveals it through Halm himself, [in Brandung], is one of aging, decline, failure, and finally of resignation to the routine continuation of the same. What brings this home to Halm, ironically, is the unexpected and exciting opportunity to get away from the almost intolerable tedium of his life as a teacher in a Stuttgart gymnasium and spend a semester at a college in California.
Here in this clichéd Shangri-la of youth, sun, and sensuality, Halm becomes sharply aware of the physical and mental failings of his years. The first of these failings is demonstrated to him most palpably by the novel's forceful “title” wave, which smashes him onto the beach and leaves his flaccid body painfully sore and stiff, almost immobilizing him. At the same time, he seems to be absolutely surrounded by older men who have sought to dip in the fountain of youth by marrying vastly younger women, and he himself becomes thoroughly infatuated with the very embodiment of the “California girl”—a tanned, athletic, long-legged blond who positively exudes...
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SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Special Subjects.” New York Review of Books 33, no. 13 (14 August 1986): 37.
[In the following excerpt, Enright describes the plot, themes, and characters of Letter to Lord Liszt, assessing the novel's value within the context of Walser's previous efforts.]
“And my lament / Is cries countless,” goes one of Gerard Manley Hopkins's sonnets, “cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.” This would serve as a handy description of Martin Walser's new novel, except for the word “dearest.” Franz Horn is a middle-echelon executive, a sales manager, with Chemnitz Dentures. He has been on the skids for some time, with one attempt at suicide behind him, and Letter to Lord Liszt, consists largely of an epistle with nineteen postscripts, a mixture of confession and arraignment, which he is writing to his colleague and rival, Dr. Liszt, sardonically addressed as “Lord Liszt.” Fifteen years younger, Liszt is—or so Horn believes—beginning his own descent down the slippery slope, having been supplanted by a younger man just as earlier he had supplanted Horn.
As a study of office hierarchy, of favor and disfavor, with all the little signs that show whether one is rising or falling in the boss's esteem, the novel is so successful in its twitchy way that the reader wonders how the firm's employees find time to do any...
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SOURCE: Demetz, Peter. “Martin Walser: Analyzing Everyman.” In After the Fires: Recent Writing in the Germanies, Austria, and Switzerland, pp. 349-61. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.
[In the following excerpt, Demetz provides an overview of Walser's life and career through the publication of The Swan Villa and discusses his overall contributions to German letters and culture.]
There are many labels used in dealing with Martin Walser, who was once among the angry young men and is now approaching his early sixties. Critics speak about the radical, if occasionally loquacious, intellectual of the independent Left, the regional writer loyally attentive to the lives of simple people on the shores of his native Lake Constance, or the sharp-eyed analyst of the way in which industrial society deforms and paralyzes those drawn into competition for money and power. Other issues are perhaps less frequently considered, as for instance whether or not it was the early loss of his Catholic beliefs that turned Walser into a restless seeker of general truth. Also worth noting are his quick and curious shifts from one genre to the other, and the disturbing sequence, or rather coexistence, of successful and unsuccessful books, revealing a rather insecure judgment of his own literary possibilities.
Walser was born in 1927, the son of a rustic innkeeper (and coal merchant on the side)...
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SOURCE: Espey, John. “Life and Lust in Academia.” Chicago Tribune (27 September 1987): section 14, p. 7.
[In the following review, Espey compares and contrasts the academic setting of Breakers with Coral Lansbury's Felicity.]
The academic novel has evolved into a number of subspecies. In its American aspect, probably the most popular of these has become the record of the visitor from abroad who examines with a slightly superior eye the institutions of the New World.
Felicity and Breakers represent the extremes of the form. The former is a splendidly impure farce, the latter, an ironically moody-exercise in introspection.
At first blush, Felicity would seem to be a home-grown product. Coral Lansbury, a Victorian specialist who has written on Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Trollope, is dean at Rutgers’ Camden College. But Felicity Norman herself is the very prototype of the sexually generous, slightly blowsy English girl that your legendary Oxford landlady was always urging you to bring to your digs for what Felicity would call either a “quick klorg,” if you were in a hurry, or a nightlong “scroom,” if you felt up to that.
When you add to this the knowledge that Felicity speaks faultless French and that the Long Island institution (Pequod College) she is visiting in her quest for Whistler's lost erotic etchings...
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SOURCE: Birkerts, Sven. “California Dreaming.” New Republic 197, no. 3806 (28 December 1987): 40-2.
[In the following review, Birkerts considers the relationship between the plot and style of Breakers within the context of Walser's previous works, comparing the literary attributes of “this emerging European master” with those of John Updike.]
Martin Walser—who is not to be confused with the pixilating Swiss stylist Robert Walser (1878-1956)—is the closest thing the West Germans have to John Updike. The comparison sounds facile, and it may not please either Updike or Walser (or it may), but it does help to locate some of the salient attributes of this emerging European master.
Near contemporaries—Walser was born in 1927, Updike in 1932—both writers are shrewd, bemused ironists presiding over the middle zone of the human spectrum. They are, on the whole, more interested in how society works, in how its members make their terms with existence, than in the ways it fails. In their attentiveness to the bright minutiae of the daily round—our social, financial, and sexual skirmishes—they could be called the anthropologists of postwar urban (and suburban) tribalism. While Walser is not quite as prolific as Updike, he needn't be ashamed of his output. In the last decade he has published Runaway Horse (1978), The Inner Man (1979), The Swan Villa...
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SOURCE: Hoffmeister, Donna L. “Fantasies of Individualism: Work Reality in Seelenarbeit.” In Martin Walser: International Perspectives, edited by Jürgen E. Schlunk and Armand E. Singer, pp. 59-70. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.
[In the following essay, Hoffmeister examines the clash between occupational functionality and the service-oriented worker's personal investment as represented by the realties of Xaver Zürn's chauffeur job in Seelenarbeit.]
Martin Walser depicts in Seelenarbeit (1979) a feature of work reality which can be highly pernicious to human emotional and physical well-being. In sociological terms it is known as functional specificity.1 Most jobs within an occupational structure require conformity to defined roles for a smooth efficient coordination of activities. The more a job is classified in purely functional terms, the less it is attached to a particular individual. Achievement is defined by so-called objective criteria, such as reliability, punctuality, and technical competence and not by considerations which take into account the particular idiosyncrasies and wishes of a specific person. The job does not depend on who the person is but rather on how well he functions. Such depersonalization was depicted by Gogol in his tale The Overcoat (1842) and by Melville in Bartleby (1853) and was analyzed by Max Weber toward the end of...
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SOURCE: Waine, Anthony. “Martin Walser.” In The Modern German Novel, edited by Keith Bullivant, pp. 259-75. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Waine discusses the social relevance of Walser's critical and comic realism within the context of postwar West German culture, tracing the evolution of narrative devices and techniques throughout Walser's novels.]
The integrity of post-war literary life in the Federal Republic can be accredited in no small measure to one particular generation of writers, whose years of birth fall approximately between 1925 and 1930. By the time they reached their late teens or early twenties they had witnessed, with growing consciousness, the collapse of no less than two political systems. Although not old enough to take responsibility for the fate of either system they were then, at the end of the war, mature enough to know they had an especial obligation in the building of a new order and, as their literary proclivities unfolded, they were adamant that literature should, amongst other things, also help to construct the invisible foundations of such a new society.
Unlike their colleagues in East Germany, however, their role was not perceived as a political one, at least initially. Their stance was more a moral one and their morality was derived largely from Christian traditions. For a further, though accidentally shared trait in the...
(The entire section is 6899 words.)
SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Adultery in the Natural Interest.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (1 January 1989): 3.
[In the following review, Eder evaluates the German nationalist theme of No Man's Land, relating the political and corresponding personal implications in terms of its protagonist.]
Wolf is a German nationalist, but forget all the abominable meanings the term has picked up over the last century.
Think of Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, pastoral nostalgia, sausages, comfortable bad taste, amiable pedantry, the Rhine and the touch of comedy that beguiled Mark Twain. Think neither of the soldier, the brownshirt nor the four-Mercedes industrialist, but of the romantic who lay in a meadow and thought cloudy thoughts.
Martin Walser, who writes mordant parables with comic tenderness, brings us Wolf, a peaceable nationalist. He fights in his own impractical way against the division of the Germanies.
Wolf is a one-man unifier. Years ago, he effected a small linkage westward by crossing over from the East. It wasn't because of politics, but because he had punched his piano teacher for making fun of his playing.
Ever since, he has conducted an eastward unification by spying for the German Democratic Republic. His wife and his mistress both hold “cosmic” clearances in a West German defense unit. The mistress supplies him with...
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SOURCE: Otten, Anna. Review of Jagd, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 63, no. 3 (summer 1989): 480.
[In the following review, Otten summarizes the themes and characters of Jagd.]
Once more Martin Walser takes us into his favorite terrain, the shore of the Bodensee, and focuses on a Zuern family, as he did in Das Schwanenhaus (1980; see WLT 55:3, p. 463), where the main theme was competition. In Jagd, however, he deals primarily with eroticism, business, and politics; Gottlieb and Anna Zuern are richer, their four daughters more independent. Gottlieb, the antihero, experiences a midlife crisis over Anna's lack of interest in sexual relations, evident, for example, in a scene in which the amorous husband approaches her bed only to have her casually ask about his hemorrhoids. When Gottlieb hunts for erotic adventure in Frankfurt and Munich, however, it is no longer clear whether he is hunter or hunted, since two women, Gisi and Liliane, seduce him, Neither relationship is to his advantage, for Anna discovers that he is Gisi's lover and Gottlieb loses a business deal with Liliane.
Walser skillfully describes not only Zuern's relationships with Anna, Gisi, and Liliane, but also—and very meticulously—with his daughter Julia, who has escaped into a commune. Walser offers clear and honest analyses of marital problems and the difficulties between parents...
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SOURCE: Brunskill, Ian. “On a Lonely Path.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4618 (4 October 1991): 33.
[In the following review, Brunskill assesses the merits of Die Verteidigung der Kindheit within the context of Walser's oeuvre.]
Martin Walser's new novel follows the unremarkable life of Alfred Dorn. As a child in Dresden, Alfred is regarded by friends and family as a prodigy, academically successful, musically gifted, a talented draughtsman who can caricature his teachers and forge his classmates’ parents’ signatures. His studies in Leipzig immediately after the war are hampered by his obvious lack of sympathy with the new political system of the GDR. He leaves, illegally but without difficulty, to study law in West Berlin, returning frequently to visit his family in the East. Eventually he passes his exams and takes up a position with a government department dealing in reparations. He leaves for another post in Wiesbaden and remains there until his death.
Die Verteidigung der Kindheit is an epic of the everyday, a vivid and often funny picture of lower middle-class life in divided Germany. Walser is particularly sensitive to linguistic trivia: he records with relish and precision the absurd and extraordinary things people say to each other showing a process of near-universal non-communication that is bleakly isolating and threatening as well as comic. But the...
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SOURCE: Pilipp, Frank. “Walser's Post-1973 Narrative Phase in Context.” In The Novels of Martin Walser: A Critical Introduction, pp. 19-46. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1991.
[In the following essay, Pilipp provides a thematic and stylistic overview of Walser's literary career since the early 1970s in terms of its relevance to German society and literary culture.]
WALSER'S LITERARY COMMITMENT TO THE SEVENTIES
In his early novels Walser portrays individuals whose spontaneous potential is curtailed by social reality. This theme of dependency and oppression is prevalent both in his novels and novellas after 1973. As Walser considers himself a chronicler of everyday life, the thematics of his texts originate in current socio-political issues. Walser never addresses these issues explicitly in his fictions, but rather draws the reader's attention to them by showing their pernicious effects on average citizens among whom he includes himself. In 1980 Walser summarized the theme in his most recent novels:
Ich habe 1976 Jenseits der Liebe gebracht, das ist … die Konkurrenz zweier Angestellten unter einem Chef. Dann kam 78 das Fliehendes Pferd das ist die Konkurrenz zweier Männer vor zwei Frauen. Dann Seelenarbeit, das ist Abhängigkeit eines Angestellten von diesem Chef. Und jetzt Schwanenhaus, die Konkurrenz nicht...
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SOURCE: Skwara, Erich Wolfgang. Review of Die Verteidigung der Kindheit, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (spring 1992): 334-35.
[In the following review, Skwara hails Walser's achievement in Die Verteidigung der Kindheit as “a major literary event,” delineating its themes, protagonist, and plot within the context of “German-German” postwar history.]
Martin Walser's newest work, Die Verteidigung der Kindheit (The Defense of Childhood), truly a magnum opus, is a book of fiction—or is it rather a biography? If so, then we read a double biography: namely, the life of ill-fated Alfred Dorn, painful hero of the impossible, and that of East and West Germany in the fore- or background. The novel, then, might be read—and would be misread—as a historical or political text alone, but its author goes far beyond such worthwhile yet trivial intentions. Despite the rather traditional epic narrative likely to make the book a favorite with foreign audiences (translations into all major languages are under way), Walser has really created a work of painful poetic vision. While reading I could not free myself from the vague concept of a “reverse developmental novel,” a term to be defined.
Walser's novel is a study of belonging, love, and dissolution, a “sickness unto death” presented as progress. Alfred Dorn's life is described with the...
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SOURCE: Mathäs, Alexander. “Copying Kafka's Signature: Martin Walser's Die Verteidigung der Kindheit.” Germanic Review 69, no. 2 (spring 1994): 79-91.
[In the following essay, Mathäs investigates the influence of Franz Kafka on Walser's Die Verteidigung der Kindheit, comparing the themes and protagonists of the novel with Kafka's literary works.]
In their initial reactions to Martin Walser's novel Die Verteidigung der Kindheit, many critics emphasized the continuity in Walser's works. Consequently, these critics stressed the psychological similarities of Walser's protagonists.1 Those critics who interpreted Walser's novel in terms of the author's position toward German unification were either disappointed or had to concede that historical events remained in the background.2 After Martin Walser had almost singlehandedly and vociferously promoted German unity, it seemed only natural for certain critics to focus on the novel's historical dimension and its significance for Germany's contemporary political situation (see for example Martin Lüdke). The fact that Die Verteidigung der Kindheit intimately portrays East-West relations during the Cold War period made such a reading even more plausible. There is, however, a danger of over-looking other thematic aspects if one concentrates exclusively on the socio-political dimension, as some of the reactions...
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SOURCE: Skwara, Erich Wolfgang. Review of Ohne einander, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 68, no. 2 (spring 1994): 364.
[In the following review, Skwara accounts for the popular appeal of Ohne einander, highlighting the novel's themes.]
In 1991 Martin Walser published his magnum opus, Die Verteidigung der Kindheit (see WLT 66:2, p. 334), a novel likely to be considered the most relevant book written about the tragic absurdity of the two former Germanies. Now Walser has returned to his lifelong topics of human frailty, the artificiality of marriage, and the absurdity of love and love's absence. Ohne einander (Without Each Other), the new novel's splendidly evocative title, sums it up: the closer we live together, as in marriage, as in the parent-child relationship, the greater may be our distance, the deeper it hurts to come upon our illusions. We can learn a lot about ourselves in this cruel book; however, we do not find a renewed or changed author following the threshold experience of his 1991 masterpiece. Walser's strength and relevance lie precisely in his life-long focus on the inability of hearts and minds to come to terms with love. Long gone is the time when Walser wrote merely major documents of West German Befindlichkeit; since the 1970s, his writing has struck at the core of our human condition, creating literature of universal appeal....
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SOURCE: Koepke, Wulf. “The Reestablishment of the German Class Society: Ehen in Philippsburg and Halbzeit.” In New Critical Perspectives on Martin Walser, edited by Frank Pilipp, pp. 1-15. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994.
[In the following essay, Koepke examines the elements of German class relations that inform the thematic focus of both Ehen in Philippsburg and Halbzeit.]
There is no need to belabor two essential points in Walser's early novels: his social criticism (Gesellschaftskritik) and his possibly excessive love of details, defining his brand of “realism.” The German critics noted these points when the novels appeared, and the scholars have followed their lead and systematized their suggestions.1 What is still in need of some elucidation, however, is the question to which degree the reestablishment of a capitalistic class society was in need of public relations through the mass media, how and why Walser focuses primarily on this aspect, and what it means for his characters.
It should be remembered that the inflation after World War I led to a widespread impoverishment of the traditional bourgeoisie, the Bürgertum, and a concomitant fear of loss of social status. Also during that same period of the Weimar Republic, an enormous increase in the number and kinds of white-collar workers, the Angestellten, took place,...
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SOURCE: Bullivant, Keith. “Working Heroes in the Novels of Martin Walser.” In New Critical Perspectives on Martin Walser, edited by Frank Pilipp, pp. 16-28. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994.
[In the following essay, Bullivant compares and contrasts the protagonists in several of Walser's novels in terms of the relationship between their occupations and Walser's thematic concern with individual failure in modern competitive society.]
The novels of Martin Walser are usually understood as breaking down into three, or even four groups: Marriage in Philippsburg (1957, trans. 1961) was a relatively conventional social novel set at a time of social mobility that had more in common with, e.g., John Braine's British novel Room at the Top (1957) than with the then contemporary West German novel. Halbzeit (1960; Half Time) and The Unicorn (1966; 1971), the first two parts of the Anselm Kristlein trilogy, were strikingly more modern in the somewhat rambling form, in the innovative use of language, and in the central thematic concern with identity and role-playing in modern society. As such they were seen as belonging to the same sort of category as Grass's Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1962) and Uwe Johnson's Mutmaßungen über Jakob (1959; Speculations about Jakob, 1963), with these novels in turn being understood to constitute a...
(The entire section is 5364 words.)
SOURCE: Dowden, Steve. “A German Pragmatist: Martin Walser's Literary Essays.” In New Critical Perspectives on Martin Walser, edited by Frank Pilipp, pp. 120-33. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994.
[In the following essay, Dowden compares the themes and techniques of Walser and John Updike's novels and literary criticism, classifying them both as pragmatists.]
Martin Walser's nearest American counterpart is probably John Updike. They belong to the same generation, the former having been born in 1927, the latter in 1932, and they both excel in the same prose forms: the novel and the literary essay. In addition, both writers are conspicuously interested in the riddles of postwar national life and identity in the contemporary middle classes. The neurotic perplexities of a Harry Angstrom or an Anselm Kristlein reflect the larger anxieties of the modern self—or at least the one that is white, male, and more or less affluent—as it floats freely on the unquiet seas of marriage and nation, religion and workplace, sex and the sundry bewilderments of just getting along in the conformist world of contemporary Germany and America.
Since a self always has to be born and raised somewhere, national identity inevitably emerges as a major theme for both novelists. Of course, neither of them advocates any kind of chauvinistic sense of nation or national destiny. Instead, each strives in his...
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SOURCE: Ziolkowski, Theodore. Review of Vormittag eines Schriftstellers, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 69, no. 1 (winter 1995): 135-36.
[In the following review, Ziolkowski summarizes the themes of Vormittag eines Schriftstellers, elucidating the volume's thesis and critical perspective.]
The latest volume [Vormittag eines Schriftstellers] by the impressively productive Martin Walser contains an assortment of eleven occasional pieces on political, cultural, and literary topics—mostly published in various newspapers since the German unification. We find here a paean to Boris Becker, an insightful appreciation of Horst Janssen's erotic drawings, a rhapsody to Goya's Maja, and a surreal vision of the year 2000 inspired by Dali. One piece portrays the figures of an economic scandal as drama while another meditates on the meaning of nation and nationalism in the era of unification with its skinheads and post—Cold War ideologies. (Walser, in contrast to many German intellectuals, is a firm supporter of Helmut Kohl's unification policies.)
The five remaining essays deal with essentially literary topics. A consideration of the professions of fictional heroes leads from Wilhelm Meister and Josef K. to the chauffeur-hero of Walser's own novel, Seelenarbeit (1979). Another records Walser's boyhood reading, which vacillated...
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SOURCE: Skwara, Erich Wolfgang. Review of Finks Krieg, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 71, no. 1 (winter 1997): 140-41.
[In the following review, Skwara discusses the themes of Finks Krieg, noting that the novel lacks erotic tension but labelling certain section as “vintage” Walser.]
Few German authors have developed a tone as uniquely their own as has Martin Walser: whatever the story, we recognize his voice right away (see e.g. WLT 70:3, p. 685). Finks Krieg, Walser's newest novel, of course remains loyal to a seismograph's function, which is to register earthquakes; and he has been the German Federal Republic's seismograph of social and inner Befindlichkeiten ever since the fifties, when his stupendous career began. His fiction, plays, and essays have demonstrated with greater clarity, honesty, and readability than most literature what has been going on in the German soul and mind. Relationships of all kinds, mainly between men and women and between underlings and their bosses, are most often at the core of his writing. Americans have John Updike; Germans have Martin Walser. He became, in this reviewer's mind, the master of description of impotence, not (just) the sexual affliction but rather the more tragic impotence of most people's social and private lives in general.
In 1991, with his magnum opus Die Verteidigung der Kindheit...
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SOURCE: Butler, Michael. “Taking on the System.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4893 (10 January 1997): 22.
[In the following review, Butler examines the significance of the critical realism of Finks Krieg, summarizing the novel's themes, its critical reception, and its relationship to Walser's other works.]
The furore surrounding Martin Walser's latest novel, Finks Krieg, together with major work recently published by Günter Grass and Christa Wolf, has sent a signal to fractious literary pundits in Germany that the older generation of-writers has no intention of slipping quietly into a well-earned retirement. Though their reputations were established in the late 1950s and 60s, their work continues to provoke and attract readers frequently, bewildered by the attitudinizing and modish pretensions which all too often characterize literary debates in post-unification Germany.
The key to the lasting significance of such writers is their adherence to a form of critical realism which combines sharp social observation with narrative experimentation. This has always been the hallmark of Walser's fiction, and Finks Krieg is no exception. Indeed, the eponymous protagonist joins a long line of disillusioned anti-heroes whose attempts to conform to social pressures while struggling to maintain a sense of personal identity have offered an illuminating guide to the pressures...
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SOURCE: Taberner, Stuart. “Martin Walser's Halbzeit: Stylizing Private History for Public Consumption.” Modern Language Review 92, no. 4 (October 1997): 912-23.
[In the following essay, Taberner analyzes the implications of cultural models in the psychological development of Anselm Kristlein, the protagonist of Halbziet, discussing the thematic significance of Kristlein's mimetic tendencies and the “fictionalization” of his personal and paternal biographical failures.]
Martin Walser's Halbzeit is typically considered to capture the mood of the early history of the Federal Republic, namely the 1950s and the Wirtschaftswunder. Indeed, critics regard Anselm Kristlein, the novel's protagonist and narrator, as the embodiment of the materialist values of that era; Stuart Parkes, for instance, compactly refers to him as ‘the archetypal “economic miracle man”’.1 Correspondingly, Anselm seems to lack personality, and merely to ‘mimic’ the dominant mores of his environment as a means of gaining social and economic success. He appears to perfect the transformation staged by Hans Beumann in Ehen in Philippsburg (1957), who moves from the country to the city in order to effect his mercantile maturation from ‘boy’ into ‘man’.2 As with Beumann, one consequence of Anselm's desire for conformity is what Donald Nelson terms ‘the...
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SOURCE: Zimmermann, Ulf. Review of Ein springender Brunnen, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 73, no. 1 (winter 1999): 140-41.
[In the following review, Zimmermann comments on the plotting of Ein springender Brunnen, drawing autobiographical parallels to the protagonist's literary experiences.]
In his “Nachtlied” Nietzsche's soul is “ein springender Brunnen”; that is what language became for Martin Walser. Language enables us to get a fix or what has happened though it is dubious that what we record is actually the same as what happened, as Walser observes in the beginning of this autobiographical novel [Ein springender Brunnen] of childhood and youth between 1932 and 1945; for “as long as something is going on, it is not what it will be when it will have been,” and “when something is over, one is no longer the one to whom it happened.”
Johann, as the novelist calls his fictive self, early on becomes enamored of language because he relishes spelling the long, exotic words taught to him by his father, a man who had received the Iron Cross in World War I and studied business in France but now chiefly indulges in hare-brained schemes (including raising rabbits for their fur). His mother, therefore, must struggle to make a go of their gasthaus by the Wasserburg railroad station. One of little Johann's chores is to count the guests at the village's...
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SOURCE: Skwara, Erich Wolfgang. Review of Der Lebenslauf der Liebe, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2002): 122-23.
[In the following review, Skwara contrasts the themes, style, and protagonist of Der Lebenslauf der Liebe with Walser's works since German reunification.]
Martin Walser, the major literary seismograph of German soul and Befindlichkeit over the past five decades, has taken on a new challenge in both the artistic and human sense. Whether this new dimension of his oeuvre represents a widening or a narrowing of the writer's scope, Walser is either way on a fascinating new path, and he takes us along. If sorrows or pains pertaining to German society at large motivated and inspired his earlier novels, novellas, and plays, his new and additional gain in territory became apparent one decade ago, when in his novel Die Verteidigung der Kindheit (1991, see WLT 66:2, p. 334) he no longer told the story of a fictitious character, but recounted the tragically blocked life of a “true” hero, a man who literally was torn apart by a divided Germany. That novel, neither pure fiction nor pure biography, established its author as a supreme master of empathy and opened the path to the autobiographical prose Ein springender Brunnen (1998; see WLT 73:1, p. 140). Freedom of age and ultimate maturity was thus transformed into a new...
(The entire section is 903 words.)
SOURCE: Butler, Michael. “A Portrait of Vanity.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5180 (19 July 2002): 23.
[In the following review, Butler chronicles the controversial Jewish reception of Tod eines Kritikers, outlining the plot and themes in the context of Walser's literary practices.]
For a people who have long perceived self-effacing dullness as a desirable quality of civil society, contemporary Germans appear to love nothing more than a good row. These have come at regular intervals since Unification in 1990. Furious debates have been unleashed, for example, on the quality and significance of East German literature, on the centrality of German culture in the context of multiculturalism, and on memory and national identity. In a way that is hard to imagine in Britain, these issues have been debated vigorously throughout the media, above all in the feuilletons and political sections of the leading newspapers. Moreover, writers, intellectuals and leading politicians often confront each other in public discussions.
Against the backdrop of the general election this September and the depressing growth of right-wing extremism in Europe, the latest brouhaha has been caused by what appears to be a revival of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately phrased statements by leading Free Democrats with a possible eye on the extreme right-wing vote have touched raw nerves in a country that cannot...
(The entire section is 1213 words.)
SOURCE: Terras, Rita. Review of Tod eines Kritikers, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 77, no. 1 (April-June 2003): 132.
[In the following review, Terras criticizes Walser's attempt to construct a coherent mystery in Tod eines Kritikers, calling the novel “a bad book by what used to be a good writer.”]
The relation between writers and literary critics was hardly ever simple and cordial. But never has literary criticism been so much the stronger party and virtually in control of the writer and his work as in recent years. In the Soviet Union, literary critics were in control of the very process of writing, and their power extended even to published works, whose texts were adapted according to the official demands of the day. In free societies, the law of the market plays a similar role. Television advertising and criticism make or break authors and works, steering literature in a direction that has little to do with an author's honest intent. In Martin Walser's novel Tod eines Kritikers, the critic Andre Ehrl-König has developed a virtual stranglehold on German literature. In his highly popular television show called Sprechstunde (“Office hour” [literally “talking hour”]), Ehrl-König arbitrarily destroys some worthy German writers for the sake of getting applause or laughter from his audience. He is far more generous when bringing up an American writer such...
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SOURCE: Ziolkowski, Theodore. Review of Aus dem Wortschatz unserer Kämpfe: Prosa, Aufsätze, Gedichte, by Martin Walser. World Literature Today 77, no. 1 (April-June 2003): 134.
[In the following review, Ziolkowski compliments the variety of the prose pieces collected in Aus dem Wortschatz unserer Kämpfe: Prosa, Aufsätze, Gedichte.]
In a career spanning almost fifty years, Martin Walser has never been less than provocative and controversial, whether he was questioning the social values of the early Wirtschaftswunder or challenging the recent “ritualization” of Auschwitz and its use as a “moral cudgel.” In honor of his seventy-fifth birthday his publisher has issued a representative collection of his writings [Aus dem Wortschatz unserer Kämpfe: Prosa, Aufsätze, Gedichte] covering the entire oeuvre (apart from the major novels) of this literary gadfly.
The volume consists of five clusters of prose separated by small groups of verse. Following three autobiographical poems, the book opens with eight pieces of mostly early fiction, beginning with the Kafkaesque title story of Walser's first publication, Ein Flugzeug über dem Haus. After more poems, the prose continues with seven scenes “Aus dem Wortschatz unserer Kämpfe,” a virtuoso linguistic showpiece of monologic responses to such topics as “Struggle with a superior who doesn't listen,”...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Butler, Michael. “Negative Capabilities.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4933 (17 October 1997): 30.
Butler examines the vast collection of Walser's works in Werke in Zwölf Bänden, noting the literary, cultural, and social relevance of the nine-volume set for reunited Germany.
Feingold, Michael. Review of Letter to Lord Liszt, by Martin Walser. Voice Literary Supplement, no. 39 (October 1985): 3.
Feingold comments that Letter to Lord Liszt is primarily focused on middle-aged, middle-class angst.
McGee, Celia. Review of The Swan Villa, by Martin Walser. New York 20, no. 26 (29 June 1987): 142, 144.
McGee lauds Walser's use of humor in The Swan Villa.
Raksin, Alex. Review of The Swan Villa, by Martin Walser. Los Angeles Times Book Review (7 June 1987): 14.
Raksin evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of The Swan Villa.
Ruta, Suzanne. Review of No Man's Land, by Martin Walser. Voice Literary Supplement, no. 76 (July 1989): 5.
Ruta discusses the fairy-tale and fantastical elements in No Man's Land.
Sharp, Francis Michael. “Martin Walser and Unification: Thoughts Out of Season?” In The Berlin Wall: Representations and...
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